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A Murder Trial in El Paso, 1851

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The following quote is a VERY interesting description of a murder trial and its aftermath in El Paso back in 1851:


"It is doubtful whether in the whole history of trial by jury a more remarkable scene than the one here presented was ever exhibited. The trial took place in one of the adobe or mud-built houses peculiar to the country, which was dimly lighted from a single small window. Scarcely an individual was present who had not the appearance and garb of men who spend their lives on the frontier, far from civilization and its softening influences. Surrounded as we had been, and now were, by hostile Indians, and constantly mingling with half-civilized and renegade men, it was necessary to go constantly armed. No one ventured half a mile from home without first putting on his pistols; and many carried them constantly about them, even when within their own domicils. But, on the present occasion, circumstances rendered it necessary for safety, as well as for the purpose of warning the desperate gang who were now about to have their deserts, that all should be doubly armed.

In the court room, therefore, where one of the most solemn scenes of human experience was enacting, all were armed save the prisoners. There sat the judge, with a pistol lying on the table before him; the clerks and attorneys wore revolvers at their sides; and the jurors were either armed with similar weapons, or carried with them the unerring rifle. The members of the Commission and citizens, who were either guarding the prisoners or protecting the court, carried by their sides a revolver, a rifle, or a fowling-piece, thus presenting a scene more characteristic of feudal times than of the nineteenth century. The fair but sunburnt complexion of the American portion of the jury, with their weapons resting against their shoulders, and pipes in their mouths, presented a striking contrast to the darker features of the Mexicans, muffled in checkered serapes, holding their broad-brimmed glazed hats in their hands, and delicate cigarritos in their lips. The reckless, unconcerned appearance of the prisoners, whose unshaven faces and disheveled hair gave them the appearance of Italian bandits rather than of Americans or Englishmen; the grave and determined bearing of the bench; the varied costume and expression of the spectators and members of the Commission, clad in serapes, blankets, or overcoats, with their different weapons, and generally with long beards, made altogether one of the most remarkable groups which ever graced a court room.

Two days were occupied in the examination and trial: for one immediately followed the other. In the mean time, a military guard of ten men had been promptly sent to our aid by Major Van Home, the commanding officer at El Paso, on my requisition: so that the open threats which had been made by the friends of the prisoners during the first day of the trial, were no longer heard; for they now saw that the strong arm of the law would triumph.The second day, a member of the Commission who manifested a deep interest in the prisoners, was requested by one of them to act as his counsel; but his efforts to prove an alibi, to impeach the testimony of some of the witnesses, and to establish the previous good character of the defendant, proved utterly futile. The prisoners were then heard in their own defense; but they could advance nothing beyond the mere assertion of their innocence. At the close of the testimony, an attempt was made by one of the friends of the prisoners to postpone the trial, for the purpose, as he stated, of obtaining counsel and evidence from El Paso. But the court had been apprised of the existence of a plot for attempting a rescue that night, and accordingly the request was refused.The evidence being closed, a few remarks were now made by the prosecuting attorney, followed by the charge of the Judge, when the case was given to the Jury. In a short time they returned into court with a verdict of guilty, against William Craig, Marcus Butler, and John Wade; upon whom the Judge then pronounced sentence of death.

The prisoners were now escorted to the little plaza or open square in front of the village church; where the priest met them, to give such consolation as his holy office would afford. But their conduct, notwithstanding the desire on the part of all to afford them every comfort their position was susceptible of, continued reckless and indifferent, even to the last moment. Butler alone was affected. He wept bitterly, and excited much sympathy by his youthful appearance, being but 21 years of age. His companions begged him "not to cry, as he could die but once!"

The sun was setting when they arrived at the place of execution. The assembled spectators formed a guard around a small alamo, or poplar tree, which had been selected for the gallows. It was fast growing dark, and the busy movements of a large number of the associates of the condemned, dividing and collecting again in small bodies at different points around and outside of the party, and then approaching nearer to the center, proved that an attack was meditated, if the slightest opportunity should be given. But the sentence of the law was carried into effect.The entire proceedings were intensely interesting, and the scene of a character which none present desired ever again to witness. The calm but determined citizens on the one side, and the daring companions of the condemned wretches on the other, remained throughout keenly on the watch: the first for the protection of life, and the support of good order in the community, the other with the malicious eyes of disappointed and infuriated demons, who, to rescue their companions, would have been willing to sacrifice a hundred additional lives."


----- Boundary Commissioner John Russell Bartlett describes a murder trial in El Paso, 1851. Three American outlaws were convicted of murdering one of the Boundary Commissioners, for which they were soon hanged.

Beauty is only skin deep but Texas is to the bone.

Posted : 29th December 2019 1:28 pm